By Donna Miles, American Forces Press ServiceSeptember 10, 2007
WASHINGTON (American Forces Press Service, Sept. 10, 2007) - In stark contrast to 9/11, when thousands fled the burning Pentagon building, yesterday more than 10,000 people walked toward it during the third annual America Supports You Freedom Walk honoring those killed in the 9/11 attacks and the nation's veterans, past and present.
The walk here is one of more than 230 Freedom Walks being held this year in all 50 states and 10 foreign countries.
Walkers here in the nation's capital assembled at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, enjoying a picture-perfect morning reminiscent of the one shattered six years ago during terror attacks at the Pentagon, New York's World Trade Center and in Shanksville, Pa.
The crowd represented a cross-section of America -- all ages, races and backgrounds - but shared a common focus as their procession streamed along the mile-and-a-half route from the National Mall to the Pentagon.
Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, deputy chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, praised the Freedom Walk as a way to recognize not just those killed on Sept. 11, but also those who have suffered since then preserving the freedoms attacked that day.
"This demonstrates that there is still great recognition of all the military people and civilians who have supported this effort, and the contributions and sacrifices they have made," he said.
"It's become a great tradition," agreed Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter. "We're gathered here to mark the memory of those lost on 9/11 and since in the conflict, and to show the consolidated support."
Retired Army Lt. Col. Deborah Ivory was among the many participants who have sacrificed personally. Her Soldier husband, Sgt. Maj. Lacey Ivory, was killed during the Pentagon attack.
"My husband died a horrible death, so whenever there is a way for me to honor my husband and his memory, I will participate," Lt. Col. Ivory said as she pushed her grandmother's wheelchair along the route.
Lt. Col. Ivory said her family, all sporting buttons with her late husband's smiling face, find comfort as they take part in the annual Freedom Walk. "The fact that everyone has come together to honor the fallen really warms my heart," she said. "The first time I did it, I cried the whole time. It's all been so healing for me."
Army Capt. Kent Solheim, his leg elevated in a wheelchair and a Purple Heart pinned to his T-shirt, called his first Freedom Walk an important way to honor troops killed or wounded battling terrorism.
"We can never forget this," said Capt. Solheim, from Fort Bragg, N.C., being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center for four gunshot wounds he suffered in Iraq in late July. "It's paramount that we always remember those killed on Sept. 11, who paid the price, and all those who have paid the price since." He's said it's particularly important to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. "They're the real heroes," he said.
Propelling his own wheelchair throughout the route, Capt. Solheim said events like the Freedom Walk ensure that the country never forgets what happened on Sept. 11, and pass those memories on to future generations. "If we don't do this stuff now, how are our kids going to know what happened'" he asked.
As they gathered to begin today's walk, participants waved flags as Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England told them the only reason terrorists killed nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11 was that they didn't know how to kill more. The crowd cheered when England told them the United States will do "whatever we need to do to protect and defend our freedoms and our liberties."
England and Army Sgt. Maj. William J. Gainey, senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led the Freedom Walk participants past the Lincoln Memorial and across Memorial Bridge, where sunlight sparkled on the Potomac River below.
Sgt. Maj. Gainey's wife, Cindy, walked at his side as she observed her birthday today. "I asked her how she wanted to celebrate, and this is what she wanted to do," Sgt. Maj. Gainey said of his wife.
Cindy Gainey said she could think of no better way to spend her special day than recognizing what the troops do for the country.
"You hear a lot about support for the troops, but actions speak louder than words. People here are showing their support and demonstrating that they appreciate our military," she said. "This validates everything that they are doing."
While recognizing the freedoms servicemembers are protecting, Sgt. Maj. Gainey said, the Freedom Walk helps maintain focus on what he called this generation's Pearl Harbor.
"Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen recognize more than anyone that that day changed our lives forever," he said. "This is another way of reminding people that we can never forget what happened that day."
Retired Lt. Cmdr. Paul McGinnis led a formation of 37 Navy Sea Cadets across Memorial Bridge into Virginia. The group, calling cadence as it marched, has participated in the Freedom Walk every year since it started in 2004. "We believe in it, we believe in what it's honoring, and we believe in the importance of remembering what happened on 9/11," he said. "It will happen again if we don't."
Approaching Arlington National Cemetery, with Lee Mansion standing majestically overhead, Army Sgt. Larry Miller pushed a stroller with his two children, Jacob, 5, and Kyla, 4. With his wife, Holly, at his side, Sgt. Miller said the Freedom Walk is particularly meaningful to him because he was serving at nearby Fort Meade, Md., on 9/11, has deployed to Iraq, and hails from New York.
"It's personal for me," said Sgt. Miller, a medic now stationed at Fort Belvoir, Va. "I wanted to be here because this is a good event and a good cause."
Equally important, he said, the Freedom Walk offers a reminder to people whose lives have returned to normal since 9/11 that their armed forces remain on guard, protecting the freedoms that were attacked that day. "A lot of people outside the military don't realize what we do on an everyday basis," Sgt. Miller said. "This helps remind them."
Passing the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, Marine Corps Capt. Chad Carbone carried his 2-year-old son, Nathan, on his shoulders. At his side walked 11-year-old nephew Hayden, whose father, Maj. Dave Bardorf, is at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center at Twentynine Palms, Calif., preparing for his third deployment to Iraq.
"He's out there risking his life for us," said Hayden of his father. "This shows that we're supporting him."
Support for the military is nothing new for the Bardorf family. Hayden's mother, Rene Bardorf, who also walked today, helped found the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund for families of Marines and Sailors wounded during combat or training. Young Hayden helped set up and run a lemonade stand at Quantico, Va., to raise money for the project.
"We're walking as a family because we all recognize the importance of showing our support," said Capt. Carbone, who served at Quantico, Va. "We're all here to support the cause."
As the procession approached the Pentagon, Army Sgt. Michael Halmon and Staff Sgt. Curtis Taylor, both Iraqi war veterans from the 55th Sustainment Brigade at Fort Belvoir, Va., reflected on the message the Freedom Walk sends to the men and women in uniform.
"This shows that we remember the people killed on 9/11 and support our fallen comrades," said Sgt. Halmon, his children Rachael and Lafayette at his side.
It also sends a message to children that the lessons of Sept. 11 can never be forgotten, Staff Sgt. Taylor said. "It's important for kids to remember, too. This is a part of history. It's something we can never forget."
Nearing the Pentagon parking lot, Department of Agriculture employee Gloria Chance hoisted an "Agriculture" sign, one of several denoting various federal agency employee groups participating in the Freedom Walk.
Ms. Chance said she rarely misses church on a Sunday morning, but considered today's Freedom Walk a worthy exception. "Being here is my Christian duty and my civic duty," she said.
"It's so important that we as a country embrace the freedoms we have and recognize that Sept. 11 was a direct assault against all of us," she said. "We need to remember that so it doesn't ever happen again -- because when you forget the past, that's when it comes right back at you."
Navy Airman Zachary Reich and his wife, Nicole, streamed past a giant American flag hanging from the side of the Pentagon building, reminiscent of the flag hung six years ago, hours after the Sept. 11 attack.
Nicole, nine months pregnant and expecting to give birth to her son, Boston, "any time now," said she considers the Freedom Walk an important first lesson for her son that she plans to reinforce throughout his life.
"I'll be able to tell him that he was a part of this and what it all meant," she said, looking down at the belly bulging beneath her Freedom Walk T-shirt. "Hopefully this will help motivate him so he can go out and do his part, too, to support his community and his country."
As the Freedom Walk participants finished their walk at the Pentagon parking lot, they sipped water and clapped to the sounds of the Harlem Gospel Choir and the Army Field Band's Jazz Ambassadors.
Kelly Wright, co-anchor of Fox & Friends Weekend and a former Army sergeant, served as emcee at the closing concert. Mr. Wright noted the appropriateness of starting the Freedom Walk in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, which honors a man who knew how precious freedom is, and how high its cost is.
Equally symbolic, he said, was its ending point, just steps from the site where 184 lives were snuffed out on 9/11, he said. Mr. Wright told the group he hopes their participation in the Freedom Walk serves as an inspiration and a reminder of the lessons of 9/11.
"The Freedom Walk celebrates our freedom and reminds us of the sacrifice that's been made - and continues to be made," he said.